There’s very little you can get on Xbox Live Arcade for 400 MS Points nowadays. Unless you’re willing to take on the mixed bag that is Xbox Live Indie Games, chances are, you’re going to have to cough up at least 800 MS Points for your gaming kicks. Not for Mercury Hg though. UTV Ignition’s highly addictive and hugely enjoyable puzzler is available for little more than a pint of lager and stands as one of the few genuine bargains on the platform.
Playing like a scientifically themed take on Super Monkey Ball, Mercury Hg has you taking control of a stage as you tilt it back and forth to get your little blob of Mercury from one end of the level to the next. There’s nothing especially new or inventive about it (the series has actually been running for years on the PSP), but Mercury Hg offers up a solid challenge amidst its extremely tight core mechanics and its 120 strong collection of extremely fiendish stages across its two central modes of play.
While there is little to set this game apart from the crowd other than the periodic table inspired visuals, Mercury Hg does take the prize for the first game of this generation that encouraged me to burn music onto my Xbox 360. It may not have any serious effect on the actual gameplay and the link between music and science is tenuous at best, but the backgrounds and stages that move in accordance to the music being played is a fantastic touch and is at least partly responsible for me playing Mercury Hg much, much longer than I had originally planned. Of course, you can just use the decent selection of catchy dance tunes provided, but I would strongly suggest getting some of your favourite tracks hooked up – especially given the somewhat Marmite nature of Mercury Hg’s audio selection.
As for the core gameplay, beyond getting as much of your mercury blob to the exit without too much dropping off the edge, there are a host of simplistic puzzles and basic hazards that combine to make Mercury Hg the thinking man’s take on the well-worn Super Monkey Ball template (or Marble Madness depending on how old you are, I guess). The main focus is still very much on dexterity rather than brain power but its nice to see a few unique challenges thrown into the mix. There are electric devices that both attract and repulse along with grid types that slow down your movement considerably. The really interesting addition, however, is the colour coded floor panels that are primarily used as imaginative platform switches. Although these start of simply enough with you sliding your blob under a coloured light to match the panels, you will soon find yourself having to split your mercury in two in an attempt to combine colours Art Attack style.
Other than that, there’s not a great deal to say. The levels get infinitely trickier as you progress with time limits becoming ever tighter as you move through both Discovery Mode (fancy talk for career mode) and Puzzle Mode. While the obvious draw of basic progression will be enough for many gamers, I found the additional level challenges hugely addictive. Beyond simply getting your blob to the exit, each stage has three additional challenges to complete; one is based on beating a specific time limit, with another requiring that you get a certain percentage of your Mercury to the exit, while the last tasks you with collecting all of the atom trinkets peppered around each stage. None of these are what you would call fresh and exciting ideas, but going back through each level to complete all four tasks is a strangely compelling experience, one that can subsequently lead to obsessive Leaderboard chasing if you’re not careful. As you inevitably become more accustomed to each stage after multiple play throughs, you’ll likely find your times improving and your place on each leaderboard creeping ever higher. This often leads to a concerted effort to improve your time, at which point you realise that’s it’s 3am on a Tuesday and you have to be up in less than 4 hours.
Playing in Discovery Mode, completion of each stage’s four tasks isn’t as taxing as it may sound due to the fact that you can complete each task on individual runs, but when you get to Challenge Mode and the game has you taking on two or three of these challenges at once, things soon get very tricky. The learning curve is relatively gentle but when things start to get tough, Mercury Hg revels in putting the boot in.
It may not do anything particularly new via its core, tilt-based gameplay and the visuals might prove a tad sterile for some, but Mercury Hg offers up a huge amount of content and a great deal of quality for its relatively paltry 400 MS Point asking price. The stages are well designed, the visualisation of the audio inspired and gameplay throughout tight and consistently addictive. If you have 400 MS Points burning a hole in your virtual pocket, you could do a hell of a lot worse than spending it on the largely brilliant Mercury Hg.
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